In dealing with the question about his political ambition, Cyril Ramaphosa employed the skills of an experienced cricket batsman, writes Jovial Rantao.
It was a morning of politics, electioneering, a dose of diplomacy and a few jokes. And Cyril Ramaphosa, the prince of South African politics, the man who should become president should Jacob Zuma not wake up one fine day, was in fine fettle.
His job, on Tuesday morning, was quite simple: to sell, to local and international media, the ANC’s achievements in the past 20 years and to convince them that the party’s story about itself is a good one to tell.
And Ramaphosa was his impressive self, listing a number of achievements the party had clocked up but equally facing up to the shortcomings that have been experienced in the past two decades.
He dealt with the main issues facing South Africa and spent a long time talking about social cohesion as an important national project as we begin the next 10 to 20 years of our democracy.
The ANC, he declared, had multiple programmes running to enhance social cohesion.
Then came question time – and that question was, among others, posed.
Was he ready to be president, to take over from President Zuma when his turn came?
Ramaphosa took off his glasses for a moment, put them back on and donned, figuratively, his diplomatic hat.
“Yes,” he proclaimed. “I want to be president…”
“I want to be president of the golf club where I play,” he said, to muted laughter and smiles. And he continued: “I want to be president of my fishing club. That is the total sum of my political ambition.”
And then came the master stroke: “When I get to Parliament and am asked to be the janitor or open doors for everyone, I will gladly do that.”
In dealing with the question about his political ambition, Ramaphosa employed the skills of an experienced cricket batsman who graciously blocks a screaming bouncer from the bowler.
He knew that he couldn’t answer it.
He knew too that he could not answer the question truthfully. The culture and tradition of the party he belongs to defines as taboo any member who publicly declares their political ambition.
It’s a practice that is looked down on and seriously discouraged.
However, there is no denying that by being the deputy president of the ANC, Ramaphosa would be in line to succeed Zuma, should the president be unable to carry out his duties.
Posing the question to Ramaphosa was probably the most natural thing to do on Tuesday morning.
It was because that morning, everything he did was presidential.
His conduct and the consummate manner that he handled issues inspired confidence.
The question posed to Ramaphosa also points to a reality that Zuma and the ANC will soon have to grapple with. Once Wednesday’s elections have come and gone and a new bigger government has been formed, a political reality will dawn. And that reality is life after Jacob Zuma.
The current president will, sooner rather than later, become a lap dog leader with the power and focus on his successor.
And that is why the question posed to Ramaphosa was important. It points to the fact that people, in and outside the ANC, are already looking at the next centre of power.
Many pundits believe, correctly, that Ramaphosa – with his experience in the ANC, as a former secretary-general, the unions (he built the National Union of Mineworkers into a giant) and business – is more than ready to take over from Zuma. A lot of hope has been placed in a Ramaphosa presidency.
Hope that he will pull the ANC and its alliance partners out of a difficult spot.
Hope that he will lift the country to much higher levels, by getting the government to deliver services to people.
To do this he will resort to a document that he authored, the National Development Plan, which has been adopted as the government’s blueprint for building the future.
The joke came from Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula who, in answering a question about transformation in sport and quotas, said South Africa did not want to, like Kenya, send a swimmer to the Olympics, only to drown. Ouch! No diplomacy there.
The last joke came from Public Services Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who remarked on the size of Ramaphosa’s shoes.
Question to Sisulu: How did she know the size of the ANC deputy president’s shoes?
Answer: “I’m sitting right next to him and can see the size…”
* Jovial Rantao is the editor of The Sunday Independent
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.